If you’re familiar with eLearning in any way, there’s no doubt you’ll have heard about blended learning. It’s is a concept that has risen in popularity over the last few years, with its advantages being lauded by eLearning professionals and learners alike and guess what? 2020 just made it even more popular. Thanks to Covid-19. Despite the acceptance of the effectiveness of blended learning, there continues to be some ambiguity around its definition. So, just what is blended learning? In today’s post, we’ll delve into what blended learning is, and highlight some benefits it offers organizations and learners. We’ll also touch on some pitfalls to avoid, and explore how you can use blended learning as part of your eLearning strategy. We hope to neck it to the Nigerian education sector and see how the education stakeholders can work together to ensure the optimal integration of Blended Learning in Nigerian institutions.
What is blended learning?
The way in which blended learning is delivered is usually dependent on circumstances, making a universal, all-encompassing definition hard to establish. By a popular definition:
“Blended learning is an approach to education that combines online educational materials and opportunities for interaction online with traditional place-based classroom methods. It requires the physical presence of both teacher and student, with some elements of student control over time, place, path, or place.”
In order to understand or create a successful blended learning strategy, it’s wise to learn as much as possible about its key ideas and values. To understand these, however, you must first know how it all got started and the historical highlights that shaped its core principles along the way. So, let’s hop into the miniature time machines in our minds and travel back to the beginning of blended learning.
Sir Isaac Pitman launches the first distance education course. Though there were other variations on the concept prior to Pitman’s, his was to resemble distance learning as we know it today. His course centered on shorthand. Pitman sent shorthand texts to his students via mailed postcards and they were required to send them back to be graded and corrected. Even though computers and mobile devices weren’t involved, and wouldn’t even be invented for roughly a century, effective feedback and assessments were still an integral part of the process.
This followed byMainframe Computer-Based Training in 1960’s & 1970’s and TV-Based Technology to Support Live Training in 1970’s to 1980’s.At this stage in the blended learning timeline, companies began using video networks to train their employees. The instructor no longer had to be physically on-site in order to onboard new hires or broaden the skill sets of existing staff members. This made the training experience more interactive and engaging. Learners were able to communicate with their peers, watch the instructor on TV, and even address any questions or concerns sending them by mail.
1980’s & 1990’s: CD-ROM Training and Rise of LMS. Schools and organizations began using CD-ROMs to deliver more interactive learning experiences, such as those that feature video and sound.
1998: First Generation Of Web-Based Instruction: In1998 the first generation of web-based instruction. Computers were no longer just for organizations and the wealthy few, but for the masses. More and more households began purchasing personal computers for their families to enjoy, while companies made PCs readily available for every employee.
Then in 2000 until Today, Blended Learning has become more and more integrated in the world’s systems. We currently find ourselves in an exciting time for blended learning. Technology is rapidly changing and an increasing number of organizations and private learning institutions are beginning to see the benefits of a blended learning approach. From interactive scenarios in the classroom to webinars and online tutorials, learners now have a wide range of tech tools and applications at their disposal. Companies have the opportunity to train their employees anywhere at any time, while online learners can participate in online communities and interactive eLearning courses from anywhere in the world. Gradually, the union between face-to-face instruction and technology-based learning is producing new and creative ways to enrich the educational experience and make learning fun, exciting, and even more beneficial.
Blended learning has a proven track record of bringing traditional classrooms into the tech-friendly 21st century.[VO1]
However when it comes to eLearning, the “place-based classroom methods” can be replaced by webinars, making the learning even more accessible and convenient especially for those who can afford the tools. Blended learning encourages personalization of the eLearning experience by combining the best aspects of in-person teaching with technology-based eLearning methods. It broadens the learner experience by supporting anytime, anywhere learning, and reshapes the role of the instructor. When applied to eLearning, blended learning is again circumstance-dependent, but usually involves:
- A portion of the learning occurs online, with the student being able to manage the pace at which they learn
- Another portion of the learning is instructor-led, usually conducted through webinars, allowing remote learners to engage more easily
Essentially, through blended learning, online and instructor-led training is complementary and creates an integrated learning environment.
TYPES OF BLENDED LEARNING
The majority of blended-learning programs resemble one of four models: Rotation, Flex, A La Carte, and Enriched Virtual. The Rotation model includes four sub-models: Station Rotation, Lab Rotation, Flipped Classroom, and Individual Rotation.
1. Rotation model — a course or subject in which students rotate on a ﬁxed schedule or at the teacher’s discretion between learning modalities, at least one of which is online learning. Other modalities might include activities such as small-group or full-class instruction, group projects, individual tutoring, and pencil-and-paper assignments. The students learn mostly on the brick-and-mortar campus, except for any homework assignments.
a. Station Rotation — a course or subject in which students experience the Rotation model within a contained classroom or group of classrooms.
b. Lab Rotation — a course or subject in which students rotate to a computer lab for the online-learning station.
c. Flipped Classroom — a course or subject in which students participate in online learning off-site in place of traditional homework and then attend the brick-and-mortar school for face-to-face, teacher-guided practice or projects. The primary delivery of content and instruction is online, which differentiates a Flipped Classroom from students who are merely doing homework practice online at night.
d. Individual Rotation — a course or subject in which each student has an individualized playlist and does not necessarily rotate to each available station or modality. An algorithm or teacher(s) sets individual student schedules.
2. Flex model — a course or subject in which online learning is the backbone of student learning, even if it directs students to offline activities at times. Students move on an individually customized, ﬂuid schedule among learning modalities. The teacher of record is on-site, and students learn mostly on the brick-and-mortar campus, except for any homework assignments. The teacher of record or other adults provide face-to-face support on a flexible and adaptive as-needed basis through activities such as small-group instruction, group projects, and individual tutoring.
3. A La Carte model — a course that a student takes entirely online to accompany other experiences that the student is having at a brick-and-mortar school or learning center. The teacher of record for the A La Carte course is the online teacher. Students may take the A La Carte course either on the brick-and-mortar campus or oﬀ-site. This differs from full-time online learning because it is not a whole-school experience. Students take some courses A La Carte and others face-to-face at a brick-and-mortar campus.
4. Enriched Virtual model — a course or subject in which students have required face-to-face learning sessions with their teacher of record and then are free to complete their remaining coursework remote from the face-to-face teacher. Online learning is the backbone of student learning when the students are located remotely. The same person generally serves as both the online and face-to-face teacher. Many Enriched Virtual programs began as full-time online schools and then developed blended programs to provide students with brick-and-mortar school experiences.
BENEFITS OF BLENDED LEARNING
A blended learning model is undoubtedly a great way to augment the learner’s experience, but its advantages go beyond that. Whether you’re training employees, partners, and customers or planning compliance training, organizations using blended learning will reap many rewards. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits for learners and organizations:
Benefits for learners
- Blended learning offers the learner convenience and flexibility; they have the ability to control their learning pace and learn remotely.
- Academic research suggests that blended learning gives learners a more comprehensive understanding of the course content.
- Because blended learning allows learners to interact with instructors and fellow learners, social learning is supported.
Benefits for organizations
- Blended learning reduces face-to-face training costs, such as travel, accommodation, and printed training materials.
- Companies can use varying eLearning methods, such as webinars, gamification, etc., which result in better learner engagement.
- Because blended learning is a more efficient and cost-effective way to train, you’ll see a quicker and greater return on investment.
- It’s also easier to track exactly who has, or hasn’t, completed training
BLENDED LEARNING PITFALLS
Now that you know more about what blended learning is, hopefully, we’ve gotten you excited about what it can offer. Before we let you in on how you can start utilizing it in your training strategy, let’s first outline a few major pitfalls to avoid before you begin.
- The most important pitfall you’ll need to avoid is using a Learners Management System (LMS) that doesn’t meet your needs. You’ll need an LMS to manage and deliver your blended learning strategy, including the integration of webinar software. And may I say that we are excited about what is in the pipes here at Skills Outside School.
- Keep in mind that what works for in-person training may not necessarily work for online training. You should not automatically assume existing courses are ready for online distribution. Analyze who your learners are, identify what they need to know, review your course content, and use this analysis to formulate a blended learning strategy.
- If switching from solely face-to-face learning, take your time when incorporating blended learning into your learning strategy. Starting slow not only enables you to assess what is and is not working from a content perspective, but also gives your learners time to adapt gradually to the blended learning concept.
Of course, it’s important that blended learning isn’t used just for the sake of it. Once you have identified your learning goals, you can think about how each goal could be achieved in an online and/or offline setting.
WEBINARS: AN EASY ROUTE TO BLENDED LEARNING
To get started with blended learning in today’s world, you can utilize webinars in the instructor-led portion of your course. To run a webinar, you’ll need a webinar tool. There are many options available; you’ll just need to find the one that suits your needs. Things to consider when choosing one include the size of your audience, their requirements, and the learner experience. Some webinar tool options include:
- Cisco WebEx
- Adobe Connect
- Google Hangouts
These tools integrate with your LMS to synchronize setup, registration, and attendance reporting. Make sure you record each session so that you can use these recordings at a later date. This is a superb way to generate reusable training content. These videos can then be added to eLearning courses and delivered to your learners.
What are the benefits of integrating a webinar tool with your LMS?
If webinar sessions are part of your blended learning, integrating your chosen tool with your LMS makes sense. This will enable you to:
- Schedule sessions in your LMS that automatically reflect in your webinar tool. This means you’ll only have to set up a session once, and there’ll be no scheduling conflicts.
- Register your attendees through your LMS, with the data being sent to your webinar tool automatically.
- Monitor attendance data that is automatically transferred back to your LMS, meaning you don’t have to waste time by manually updating this information.
- Halt the repetition of tasks, improve reporting, streamline workflows, etc. It’s also super easy to set up.
THE NIGERIAN EDUCATION SECTOR
In Nigeria, traditional method of teaching where lecturer stands before the students and delivers his lecture while students listen, take notes and remain passive throughout the teaching and learning process. This method is a teacher-centred approach. Teacher dominates the class and students accept what the teacher says without questioning or contributing to the lecture. In a classroom situation, students differed in terms of intellectual ideas and perception; they learn and understand more quickly and easily than others but these facts were not taken into consideration in traditional method of teaching (Umoh, & Akpan, 2014). Traditional method of teaching alone may not be suitable for individual requirements thus, there is need for modern technology to cater for different learning styles. These could include: mobile learning, flipped classroom, e-learning, blended learning, among others for which our focus is blended learning.
Challenges Facing the Establishment of Blended Learning in Nigerian Education System
1. Finding the Right Blend: The most significant challenge faced by people developing and delivering Blended Learning in Nigeria is identifying the instructional strategies that match well with the conditions that are present in these two quite different environments. This challenge is complex because it relates to achieving the right blend, both from a learning and cost-effective point of view.
2. Increased Demand on Time: Instructors and trainers are generally comfortable with creating and presenting instructional materials either in a F2F or in a remote learning environment, but not necessarily in both learning environments. When an institution or teacher decides to utilize both learning environments for teaching a single course, the time demands of the instructor or trainer increases because instructional materials must be developed for the unique environments.
3. Overcoming Barriers of Institutional Culture: In Nigeria, there are cultural barriers for both learners and instructors that must be overcome in order to use Blended Learning effectively. General component of Blended Learning requires a large amount of self-discipline on the part of the learners because learning in that setting is largely independent (Collis, 2003). In current higher educational online learning environments, students tend to procrastinate when they have little required contact (Leh, 2002).
4. Inadequate Infrastructure: Limited availability of infrastructure especially telecommunication networks and services, which require development and expansion continue to elude our educational system. An OECD study reiterated that the rollout and use of quality and affordable services should be available and affordable to individuals and institutions as a prerequisite to their entry into the information society. The above challenges are followed by several others such as limited access to Internet facilities, insufficient allocation of fund to education. From a pedagogical standpoint, the goal of blending learning environments for a particular context and audience is to find an appropriate combination of the two environments that takes advantages of the strengths of each environment and avoids their weaknesses (Martyn, 2003; Osguthorpe & Graham, 2003).
CHANGING THE NARRATIVE: WHO IS INVOLVED
Nigeria like any other Nation is and should not be left out on integrating Blended Learning in her curriculum. Though we can say that we have differing variables compared to more advanced nations, one of such is the accessibility of the tools required for eLearning by many learners. Besides a couple of challenges, Blended Learning is an acceptable reality that is growing both in popularity and efficiency.
To change the current tides in our education sector which serves as limitation to the implementation of Blended Learning in Nigeria, the government plays a very crucial role. By a tweak of a policy, creation of news ones or amendment of old to serve the ultimate good of the educational sector and ultimately, the Nigerian learner. Telecommunication companies, NGOs, individuals and other private and public organizations all have a role to play to ensuring free transition and establishment of Blended Learning in Nigerian education system and must do their parts to see that it happens.
When using blended learning, keep in mind that its aim is to combine the strengths of both traditional and online learning methods in order to give your learners a more engaging learning experience. Through blended learning, you’ll take advantage of the best of both worlds, benefitting both learners and instructors. A good LMS should make it simple to set up blended courses that contain any combination of face-to-face and online training components.
The Opportunities Blended Learning Will Offer
If the wealth of a nation is in its people, access to education, information and knowledge which serves as a great tool for human capacity building is a must for building thought leaders, inventors, entrepreneurs and the nation’s leaders across all sectors.
The national policy on education (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2013) regards education as an instrument for effecting national development. The Nigerian philosophy on education is based on the development of the individual into a sound and effective citizen and the provision of equal education opportunities for all citizens of the nation at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels both inside and outside the formal system.